We all like to think of ourselves as strong, confident women. We publicly avow to not put up with BS or restrictions; from the pay gap to the patriarchy. And yet…why is it that men are four times more likely to ask for a promotion or a pay rise than an equally qualified woman?
Where does that confidence go when we want something? Why are we not negotiating for ourselves? When was the last time you negotiated something for you?
Cyran Field Bampton – hugely successful lawyer, legal consultant and blogger – is an expert negotiator. She has negotiated all of her career; including multi-million pound deals for huge conglomerates. Yet it wasn’t until she had her daughter- eleven years into her legal career- and she wanted more flexible working hours that she first negotiated for herself.
It was a wake up call for her, and now she’s on a mission to awaken our own awareness of the gap between male and female negotiation.
For Cyran, one of the key reasons is social conditioning. Whilst men are actively encouraged to forge ahead and ask for what they want, with precious few societal consequences, women are trapped in the bind of still needing to be seen as likeable – of not wanting to be that dreaded thing- the Difficult Woman.
“Look at how the women who DO negotiate get viewed! Pushy or bossy- it’s all negative. We have been socially conditioned to be demure and pretty- ornamental and not direct,” observes Cyran, “When you are advocating for yourself, you become the opposite of that view of women. Even as women we are also struggling with that viewpoint internally, because when we are advocating on behalf of a client, we do not have this problem. I think we feel comfortable being liked because people respond to us when we behave like that, which encourages us to toe the line. It offers the path of least resistance.”
But, of course, it’s more than just perception; it’s circumstances and how both of these bleed into one another. It is no coincidence that most women negotiate for themselves for the first time when having children. Because the responsibilities ofchildcare still rest on the mother and, even if this is not the case, it is still perceived to be the case.
“Women have to consider all of the aspects of how a job fits into their lives and their family, but typically and traditionally men have not needed to think or consider those things,” says Cyran, “I have witnessed men in offices who say that women who have these high-powered jobs and spend more time in the office than with their kids; probably shouldn’t have their children. It is mind boggling that that gets said- and you would never hear that said about a man. There is also just the fact that my job- no matter how high up- is always going to be that AND looking after my kids. Men do not have to worry about that.”
So- in 2020- year of the pushback on everything from systemic racism to outdated work practices- isn’t it time we started asking for what we want? Yes, says Cyran, who shares her advice for negotiating everything from pay and promotions to our relationships…
Accept that it’s going to be uncomfortable.
“Acknowledge that it is tricky and that it doesn’t feel nice. It will feel awkward. Asking for what you want can feel uncomfortable but don’t shy away from it just because it’s uncomfortable. This is especially true when it comes to negotiations in your personal relationship, but that space outside of your comfort zone is normally where the change happens. It makes you cringe but you have to do it!”
It’s always on the table…
“I have found this with so many women I know and speak to, that when you enter whatever profession at a junior level, you are just so grateful of the opportunity to have the job that you just say- OK right, that’s fine, and you never interrogate the salary or what the benefits are or the system of bonuses. Too many women just wait for a pay rise to happen instead of going after it. I never see women do that unless they are negotiating a return to work after maternity leave. But these conversations are available to you all year around and we need to take advantage of that more.”
….but read the room
“Obviously we are in the middle of a global pandemic, only certain industries are doing well at this time, so you need to assess it. If you have a bonus already built into your salary based on company performance – and your company is doing well- then maybe you should do something based on that. But is this the right time to ask for a pay rise, if colleagues are being laid off or furloughed? Probably not. BUT is now the time to readdress your contract re-flexible working? Absolutely. Working like this will no doubt have made you more productive and you can use that as leverage. It is these things that you should be negotiating now-the non-money things like flexible working and home working. These won’t cost your company anything – in fact it might even save them money- and now is the time to ask for them!”
Know exactly what you want…and not just at work
“We need to figure out what it is we really want; what our actual demands are- and this is not just at work. We try and be the ‘cool’ girl in a relationship- we don’t want to seem overbearing, but at the same time, we don’t want to be single. It’s a bind! You should be able to say what you want in a relationship. If the person you are with, does not want the same things as you; why don’t we pay attention to it? We shouldn’t be afraid to lay down our relationship bottom lines in a relationship. Yes, compromise is important; but it is too often the women who end up compromising. So, know your relationship bottom lines! Your partner needs to know them too!”
Do your research
“Be armed with research, go over your old appraisals, gather the information that you need to tell yourself that you’ve done a really good job. You need to visualise it to- how you see it working for you, how you see it working for your employer, how you can justify a salary increase to yourself and also your employer, you need to be able to provide examples that you are better working at home, for example. .If you know you can provide your employer with a better you, then you need to convince them of that. You need to show that you have taken the time to really think about this and do you research. You need to be prepared. You wouldn’t go into an exam without being prepared, don’t go into a negotiation like that.”
“One of the easiest ways to negotiate is just to ask questions: it can be as simple as ‘can this be done?’ It doesn’t have to be antagonistic, it can be curious. Don’t just accept things at face value – like when financial services firms often condescend to female customers- listen to things critically.
If you are in a negotiation and there is something you are not comfortable with; say ‘can you drop me an email with that? Let me take it away,’ Or if someone asks you a question you don’t quite know the answer to, just say ‘can you leave that with me?’ A good way for women to shy away from having those negative stereotypes is to take as much control in the conversation as possible and part of that IS asking questions.
It’s not being antagonistic – its being inquisitive, it’s finding out how you can get what you want, by asking these questions. That is the best way in – even in relationships too – because it is about building change, not being adversarial.”
Find that inner confidence and know your worth
“The number one thing that will get you to a place where you can say; actually I will get this because I know what I bring to the table; is self-worth and confidence. That can only come from YOU.
Let us work on our own confidence and empower ourselves. It is not always monetary value we need either- often it can be negotiating for a better work life. We simply MUST ask. We owe it to ourselves to ask. You need to do it in a way that feels like you, so you don’t think you are playing a part and therefore do not get nervous. You need to have as much confidence as you have. The self-doubt talk can be quite loud when you are about to do something like this. So, take in that research you have done. Even if you are not presenting that to anyone; it’s for your own confidence. You should know what you’ve done that has helped your company, or what you have brought to a relationship, or what you are capable of- so that you know you’re not asking for the moon, you are asking for what you’re worth.”
Don’t make it personal (even if it is)
“To advocate for yourself is terrifying. It’s very emotional- you are dealing with things you really want. But you always need to position what you want as something you have really thought about, as opposed to a flippant or angry request.You do have to separate yourself from it- step back a bit and really figure out what it is that you are bringing to the table.”
Know when to walk away (and how)
“The fact is, you may not always get what you want and then it is a case of understanding when to leave the negotiating table. That is the moment when you think where else you could work, what your next move is, do I stay in this relationship, what can I compromise on? What will they compromise on? Maybe it’s a case of give it a year, give it some more time, think what your Plan B is. Is it pivoting? Don’t upturn the table if you don’t get what you want.Knowing when to leave that table- and how- is hard, but you need to have an idea of your exit strategy before you go into any negotiation- professional or personal.”